Amanda Pratt recently became Kansas City, Mo., Local 53's first woman journeyman tree trimmer, but she won't be the last. Nor is she done taking on more roles.
|Amanda Pratt, left, recently became Kansas City, Mo., Local 53’s first woman tree trimmer, but not the last. She’s since been followed by Rusti Metcalf, center, and Kayla Vanaman.
“To be the first woman journeyman tree trimmer in my union is a tremendous honor," Pratt said. "At first, I didn't really understand exactly how special this was. I was just reaching my own personal goals, trying to be the best I could be. It has really set in lately though. I'm very proud to have made this accomplishment."
Pratt, who told local news outlet Fox 4 that she's always liked the "out of ordinary jobs for women," says she first heard of tree trimming as a career from her fiancé, who works in the field. She had never even held a chainsaw before and wasn't sure she'd be able to do the work, physically or mentally, but she jumped in anyway and hasn't looked back.
"What I like best about tree trimming is the challenge. Every day I push myself to the limits and every day I learn, meeting goals and getting better," Pratt said. "The trees are my happy place, where everything else in the world fades away and it's all about that moment: What cut to make, which tie-in point will get me the maximum advantage. I just love it."
Her talents and ambition were noticed by leaders at Local 53. They were so impressed with her, in fact, that they hired her on as an organizer. She began in August and will focus on organizing nonunion tree trimmers and lineworkers of various other professional and industrial targets.
"Who better to get out and recruit these folks than Amanda," said Business Manager Eric Williams. "She's a very positive person and she has a good story to share as an organizer."
While she'll miss being up in the trees, the Missouri native says she's excited about her new opportunity to bring more people into the IBEW, and to be an example for other women who may also be looking for a new and challenging career.
"I want women to know that they can do this work," Pratt said of the male-dominated tree trimming profession. "It's dangerous and challenging, and the elements are daunting, but it can be done. Just don't give up and never compare yourself to men. Do your best every day and you can move mountains."
That determination and optimism will serve her well as she travels around southwest Missouri in her new role.
"I am honored by this opportunity to move up and help make Local 53 stronger. It's an opportunity that's bigger than I have ever dreamed of for myself," Pratt said.
Much like tree trimming, organizing wasn't something that was on Pratt's radar, but she says she's up for the challenge.
"I absolutely love tree work, but if I can help make things better for other line-clearance tree trimmers and other electrical workers, then I'm all in," Pratt said. "To improve things for other men and women for generations to come, to be part of something greater than I am, is a wonderful opportunity."
Williams says bringing Pratt on staff is part of an intentional effort by the 3,000-member local to be more inclusive about recruiting and retaining more women. They've also promoted another staffer, Lisa Mead, to business representative. She and Pratt are working on organizing the local's first women's committee.
"This is a very important step for our local as we've seen a rise in women applying for our jobs," said Line Clearance Business Representative Mike Callahan. "We want to give them a place to meet and discuss issues that relate to women in the workforce."
Mead, who was previously the executive assistant for the local, will focus on clerical workers in her new role, most of whom are women.
"I have done clerical work my entire working career, so I'm in a good position to listen and understand our women members in these jobs," Mead said. "I also hope this new transition will help more women to join the union."
Williams says they have about four women following Pratt's footsteps in the tree trimming program working as groundmen. And while there are currently no women linemen, there's no reason it needs to stay that way.
"We want to make women aware there's a place for them here in our local," Williams said.
Mead and Pratt both noted that having male allies, particularly in leadership, is an important part of making a local, as well as a job site, truly inclusive.
"It's very important to have male allies and supportive leadership," Pratt said. "You work with these guys day in and day out. Being your brother and sister's keeper is very important. In this type of work it can mean life or death. A good leader, whether male or female, can help encourage others to work safely and rise up to become the best they can be."